Judging by Javier Aguirre’s recent line-ups, Mexico will have one of the youngest squads on show at the upcoming 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Having given several of the country’s promising new talents the chance to show what they can do in the last few months, the Tricolor coach could well be sending out a team containing seven players under the age of 25 for their tournament opener against the host nation.
Yet as the saying goes, if they are good enough, they are old enough. And there is little question the likes of Guillermo Ochoa, Andres Guardado, Giovani dos Santos or Carlos Vela make the grade. So much has been written and said about them during their careers already that it is hard to believe that not one of them has yet to turn 25.
Yet such is Mexico’s current embarrassment of riches that Aguirre can also call upon several lesser-known but equally talented youngsters, among them Hector Moreno, Efrain Juarez, Pablo Barrera and Javier Hernandez. It will not be a surprise to see that quartet make names for themselves in South Africa.
Old heads on young shouldersThe leader of the new Tri generation is Guardado. The Deportivo La Coruna wide man is recognised as one of the finest overseas imports in the Spanish game today, and has already had a taste of FIFA World Cup finals action, appearing as a relative unknown in Ricardo La Volpe’s squad at Germany 2006.
“I was 19 and I thought I’d just be sitting on the bench,” he recalls. “But La Volpe had faith in me and selected me for the Argentina match [in the Round of 16]. I don’t think I let him down, and the experience was crucial for my career. I tried to learn as much as I could from the players that were around me, and being part of that squad helped me mature an awful lot as a player.”
It’s not all about the youngsters. The big thing about this generation of Mexican players is that a lot of them have gone to Europe, something that wasn’t the case in the past. In that respect we’re finally getting close to some of the big nations.
Thanks to that experience Guardado represents a vital link in the Mexico camp between the wise old heads and the hungry new breed coming through. “They’ve both got a lot of talent,” he says, assessing the attributes of Aguirre’s side. “The thing is, we were working for four years together with La Volpe before Germany 2006, whereas this time we’ve had lots of problems. Though the results have been good, it’s not the same when you only have a year to get things right.”
Nevertheless, the Depor flyer sees grounds for optimism, not least the unprecedented know-how the current Mexican crop has acquired. “It’s not all about the youngsters. The big thing about this generation of Mexican players is that a lot of them have gone to Europe, something that wasn’t the case in the past. In that respect we’re finally getting close to some of the big nations.”
The apprentice and his masterJuarez is one of Mexico’s rough diamonds. A U-17 world champion at Peru 2005 along with Vela, Dos Santos and Moreno, the 20-year-old Pumas left-back has been elevated to the national side under Aguirre, and believes the blend of the old and the new can only be positive for El Tricolor. “There are many new faces but there are also some experienced players with a lot of quality,” he tells FIFA.com. “There’s a real sense of togetherness and we’ll be ready and united from the start.”
In Juarez’s view, that Peru triumph was vital in allowing the country’s young talents to break into the full national team, and in giving them the confidence to believe they could compete with anyone. “Obviously, taking part in a youth World Cup is important and winning it even more so,” he adds. “We beat Netherlands and Brazil, the two best teams in the age group, and that helps you overcome your fear of taking part and to focus on winning, no matter what the level is.”
The man reaping the benefit of this new-found winning mentality is national boss Aguirre. “I know they’re young, but I don’t go round looking at players’ birth certificates,” he says. “The generation that won the U-17 World Cup is fantastically gifted and it wouldn’t make sense not to give them a chance, especially with the terrific talent they’ve got. On top of that we’ve got a group of players with international experience, players who’ve been to World Cups and who can help the young ones focus. I’m not worried, anything but. I go by ability and not by age.”
All that remains for Mexico’s precocious prodigies to do now is back up their coach’s words of wisdom with some compelling displays at South Africa 2010.